Conservative economist pooh-poohs harbor deepening, tax vote

By Walter C. Jones
Morris News Service
ATLANTA – The conservative economist and columnist Walter Williams doesn't necessarily embrace two of Georgia business community's biggest goals, deepening the Savannah River and a sales tax for transportation.
Williams, long-time head of the economists department at George Mason University, said Monday that Savannah became a major port in colonial times without federal investment and so he thinks Washington should stay out of it now.
"It was a major trading port for the South. How in the world did it get there without the federal government?" he asked. "I always ask people when they say, 'We've just got to have something' what did we do before? Nobody really asks that question."
Williams regularly argues for lower taxes, and he wasn't impressed with having voters do the raising for the transportation sales tax rather than elected officials. He noted that the country's founding fathers warned against the masses using ballots to take what they want.
"You might be tapping into the public will more through a referendum than through legislation. I don't know that tapping into public will is a good thing," he said. "... Our founders had utter contempt for democracy. You don't find the term democracy anywhere in our founding documents because majority rule is just another form of tyranny."
The question is to weigh how else the money could be used to boost the economy, such as for healthcare or personal consumption, he said, adding that he wasn't prepared to provide an answer.
Williams, who frequently fills in for talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, answered questions while in town for a pair of speeches, including one sponsored by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. That organization is pushing a vote in July to raise a 1-percent sales tax to fund various transportation projects and a separate campaign to convince Washington to fund the bulk of deepening the shipping channel in the Savannah River. Chamber officials say both initiatives are needed to revive the state's economy.
Georgia's pace of job creation is at the level of 10 years ago, according to Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, another champion of both causes.
"We've been known as Hotlanta," said Sam Williams, no relation to the economist. "Our heat is dying out."

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